Achieving success as a financial advisor is difficult. Not just because of the challenge of learning the necessary information (and how to deliver that information), but also because of the perennial challenge for advisors in getting people to (in marketing parlance) “know them, like them, and trust them” enough to become clients and pay the advisor for their expertise. Which is why, despite the tremendous growth in recent years of available channels to connect with prospective clients, by far the most common (and reliable) means of growth for advisors is when existing clients (who already know, like, and trust their advisor) refer their friends and family to the advisor. Still, though, while “referrals” remains the most common channel by which advisors get new clients, most are not getting as many referrals as they would like, and struggle with figuring out how to actively get more referrals in a way that is both genuine and scalable, in a world where just trying to be “remarkable” may no longer be enough.
In our 49th of Kitces & Carl, Michael Kitces and client communication expert Carl Richards discuss why asking clients to refer their family and friends has become increasingly difficult for advisors in recent years, the key mindset shift that advisor should make when thinking about growing their business through referrals, and a systematic strategy to actively go about making that happen (beyond just trying to do more and give more away to clients in the hopes that they will tell their friends and family about it)!
As a starting point, it’s important to recognize that, as the industry has shifted towards a more fee-based model (where clients see the fees that they pay as a line item in their statements), the old “I get paid two ways” conversation (by the work you do with me as an advisor, and giving me a referral to your friends and family) is no longer a comfortable one to have. Yet, when asked how they go about generating referrals in a post-commission world, most advisors still don’t really have a good answer other than they try to give remarkable service and then hope that their clients will, in turn, remark to their friends and family about what a great advisor they have.
Unfortunately, that process is neither reliable nor repeatable for most, which is why advisors should instead adopt an approach that is. A more targeted strategy is for the advisor to instead make a shortlist of the clients that they would most like to replicate, scheduling a short call with those clients, and asking them, if they were in the advisor’s shoes, how they would go about finding more clients like them. Some conversations may not go anywhere, but a few may result in the actual name of a new referral on the spot! But by far the most valuable outcome is an idea, that comes from the client, about a good way to meet more people just like them. And because those ideas are coming from the client, chances are pretty good that they’ll be the first in line to show up with their friends or family to an outing or event that they thought of in the first place!
Ultimately, the key point is that getting clients to refer their friends and family to their advisor is about creating room for clients to become invested in the success of the ideas that will help their advisor build relationships rather than just trying to provide remarkable service (which is still important) and then hoping for the best. Because if advisors can show that they are genuinely interested in their clients’ interests, ideas, and opinions, then those clients will become actively engaged in activities that will give prospective clients the opportunity, in turn, to get to “know, like, and trust” the advisor as well.
***Editor's Note: Can't get enough of Kitces & Carl? Neither can we, which is why we've released it as a podcast as well! Check it out on all the usual podcast platforms, including Apple Podcasts (iTunes), Spotify, and Stitcher.
Kitces & Carl Podcast Transcript
Michael: Good morning, Carl.
Carl: Well, greetings, Michael. How are you?
Michael: I'm doing well. How are you?
Carl: I'm good. Yeah, things are good.
Michael: Fantastic. I'm just continuing to appreciate the Kitces blue sofa that you continue to have in the background to honor the Kitces brand. It's fantastic.
Carl: I'm trying to figure out how we can... I was trying to cover it up. I literally had the exact same thought, I was like, "Oh my gosh, that's crazy how close that is to that blue." But there is a subtle difference, my wife has pointed out. She's an interior designer. She picked up the couch. She's like, "That is not Kitces blue," she told me. So we're all good.
Michael: Okay, all right. Just like slowly eats into her subconscious, though, that, like, it has to be close to Kitces blue.
Carl: All of her mood boards for clients lately have had this weird blue sneaking into it. I'll have to tell her why that is.
Michael: It's the strangest thing. It's the strangest thing. Well, I'm looking forward to today's discussion. One of the things that comes up so often in the feedback we've gotten to the podcasts and questions around advisors is, like, around growth. I think so many of us struggle with growth and not quite getting the growth that we want. The most common way that firms grow is through referrals. We continue to see that in our Kitces marketing research now as well. Whenever I get down to the individual advisor, like, “How are you growing with referrals?” Or, like, “What are you trying to do to grow more with referrals?” I think the most common answer I hear is usually something to the effect of, “Well, I just try to be more awesomer for my clients, so that they'll feel more inclined to refer me.” As one advisor had said to me recently, they're kind of tearing a page out of the Seth Godin book. Like, if you want to be referred, be remarkable. Do something that is worth remarking of. And they pour all their energy and effort into being super awesome advisors and giving great service and great advice to their clients. And then it's like crickets chirping sometimes. Like, the magical referral fire hose does not just suddenly open up and start shooting clients at us.
For which, usually, the alternative advice is, well, you have to ask for referrals. And if we start in the business, you know, anybody who started out in like the sales side of the business, which is still a lot of us, we've been doing this for a period of time. Like, asking for referrals, I mean, literally the way I was trained, you bring a piece of paper; you put it in front of the client, and you ask them to write down the names and phone numbers, because there weren't email addresses back then, write down the names and phone numbers of three people you know that I could call. Or if that's not uncomfortable for you, I've also created this template letter, because it was a physical paper letter then, and just put in the names of the clients and sign it on the bottom for me. And then I will go... So, like, this is literally how we were trained. This is what we did. This is what all my colleagues did. And I thought it was so icky, I refused to do it. So of course, yet another reason why I didn't grow in that original sales job. So, like, I feel like we're caught on these bookends of pain. Either I'm doing all this work and pouring my heart and soul into my business, trying to get my clients great service, but they're not remarking on me. Or I'm supposed to ask them for referrals, and it feels icky, or I've been trained in actual skeevy ways about how to do it. And I'm sorry, I'm just going to outright say that's kind of skeevy, what we were trained and used to do. So, how do you handle the referral conversation? How do you handle this?
How NOT To Handle The Referral Conversation [04:40]
Carl: So we've got a couple of problems here. The first one is, I mean, well, first, we just got to cover that background. That's exactly the way I was trained, too. It was horrible. And I had this exact same problem. So it was like, okay, I was thinking literally like a math problem. I was like, "Wait". And I've asked this just like you, hundreds, if not thousands of times now. Like, "What's your main source of business referrals? How do you get referrals?" It's always like, "I don't know." So I was like, wait, let's get this straight. Your main source of business is something you don't have a process for? So let's fix that. What are the options for the process? I was taught the same way as you. The way I was taught was... I mean, they always involved the painful discussion, often taking guilt, using guilt, shame, and blame, and placing it on the client's shoulders, signing them up for an obligation. I was taught, and I was at, you know, I think the organization that probably had some of the best sales training back in the day. And I was taught to say... I remember, I had this conversation with my biggest client. His name was Dave. I said, "Dave..." I did what I was taught. "Dave..." I did it once, by the way, you'll see why. I said, "Dave, you pay me two ways."
Michael: Oh, “I get paid two ways”!
Carl: Yeah. "One is the fees you pay, and the other is by sending your friends and colleagues to me." And Dave looks at me and goes, "Carl, let's get one thing straight. I pay you..." He was my biggest client. "I pay you one way. If you'd like me to pay somebody else that one way, I'm happy to." Right? And obviously, I never asked the question again. But that was always it. And this finds its form like in the seminar marketing thing, where you would say, "I've got a seat for you, and your ticket is bringing someone else." Right? It's always the same thing.
Michael: And it's worth noting as well, there really is an interesting dynamic in how the whole “I get paid two ways” thing has shifted. Because I mean, frankly, I remember getting trained on that conversation as well. But it was, "I get paid two ways: when you end out using my company's products to help achieve your financial goals" – as you know, we were representing a life insurance company then – "and referring me and introducing me to your friends and family." But, like, the interesting difference to me, there was no fee because it was all commission-based work. And nobody saw the commission or knew what I was compensated. And we were actually trained, like, you know, we get paid two ways, what my company gets when you use their products and compensating me by introducing me to your friends and family and giving me referrals.
Carl: That's just so bad.
Michael: And so there was this whole dynamic of like, you haven't actually paid me anything. And of course, I was still getting commissions on the other end, but you haven't actually paid me anything. I did all this planning work for you, and you haven't written a check. So like, this is the implied payment now. And frankly, I think that's why it worked a lot, at least for the people who were willing to do it and have that conversation. But I think as your story with Dave highlights, like, that whole thing has really broken down as we've gone from a world of commission-based products to fees. Because, as Dave so astutely noted, like, no, I already paid you one way. And it's a really big check or a really big line item out of my investment account. I know exactly what it is because I can see it on this statement. And like, it has a lot of zeros in it. You're doing fine with the first way of getting paid. I don't owe you squat on getting paid the second way.
Carl: But the point is, it's just as icky of an experience, right? And to a large degree, I'm shocked it ever worked. And if it did work, it brought out really bad feelings. Everybody felt bad. You felt bad. You had to take a shower after the conversation. The client was upset. The whole thing. So I was like, well, how do we solve this problem? Because we know that I want to have an impact in the world. This is what I was thinking. I want to have an impact in the world. I know the work I do changes people's lives. I know I'm making people's lives better. And if I want to do that for more people, and I want to make more money, I'm totally fine with that. And I was like, and I know the best way to do that is for clients to refer people to me. I know that. We know that's best for me. We know it's best for the client. And we know it's best for the prospective client. Everybody benefits when that happens, assuming my work's as good as I think most of the people listening, too, their work is. Right? So I was like, how would you solve this problem? And yet, it's not happening. That was the problem, right? Here's the best way, and yet it's not happening. Or at least I was remarkable, too. And I got these remarkable referrals, you know, like, these random things happened. And that's great. Like, keep doing that. Right? Great. But when I started thinking about this...
Michael: I think, as you pointed out, the problem with that is when your main source of growth is those kinds of referrals, and you don't have a process about how to make them happen and how to flow them through, you get into the trap that I see so many advisors, like, well, if I'm remarkable and I give great service and I get some referrals, do you know how I'm going to get more referrals? Slave away more. Like, be more remarkable, give away more stuff that may be free or over the top or beyond scope service. Because I'm just going to try to pour more of my heart and my soul into this client, hoping that they just notice it and remark upon it to their friends. And at best, it's not a very good process. And I think at worst, ironically, for a lot of us, like, well, the client's never had any other advisor and we're the first one they work with, like, they don't even know it's remarkable. They just assume it's normal because it's the only thing they've seen. And just it's not an effective process for scaling those outcomes.
Carl: No, for sure. And so at the very least, I don't think there's necessarily, like... You know, we may not know what goes on in the middle, but we could know the input and we know the output. And if we can just increase the number of inputs. So what's that conversation look like? And one of the reasons this doesn't happen for us, even when we're remarkable, is that people don't talk about money. Like, we kind of forget that. We talk about it all day long. You don't talk about money. Imagine what you need to do in order to be in a conversation where somebody would refer. So you have a happy client, imagine what one of their friends has to do in order for the happy client to tell... They have to A, talk about money, and B, probably admit they're unhappy or something, right? Like, they have to admit like, my person is not doing a good job. They have to sort of be kind of having a conversation about how they might have made a mistake somewhere, right? Like, something's gone wrong.
Michael: Like, they don't have to admit that their person's not doing a good job, they have to admit that they chose a person who's not doing a good job which is actually awkward for us to have to admit and acknowledge.
Carl: Or that they don't have a person, and they're scared, and they don't know what they're doing. Like, all of those are things, like, it just doesn't happen. So, how do we increase the frequency of this? Now, listen, I'm really hesitant to talk about this, because I've worked on this for 15 years, and I know a conversation that works. It's, it doesn't hurt anybody. The worst-case scenario is a good outcome. The worst case is a good outcome. And it's...I'm not going to say it's easy, but it's very, very simple. And it's only hard because we get in our own way. The reason I'm hesitant to talk about it is no one will do it. Like, I've been teaching it for a decade, and no one does it. The people who do it, without fail, 100%... In fact, we have this as a $5,000 workshop. And for a long time, we had an ROI guarantee on it, that if you did this 10 times, and you didn't have direct revenue that you could actually point to, this came as a result of this conversation I had. If you didn't have direct revenue equivalent to the fee of the workshop, we would give you all of your money back. But you had to do the conversation 10 times. We've never issued a refund. Because either you don't do the conversation 10 times, or it works. It's a binary outcome.
Michael: So I feel like we're at a split here. So I want to hear what the conversation is, I can already tell cueing up like, our next episode of the podcast is going to be all the people who don't have the conversation and why they don't have the conversation. Because I think we have a lot of referral reluctance on our end as well. So maybe we'll come back to that on the next or on a future episode of the podcast. But like, you built this up so well now, like, I got to know, what is the conversation? Tell me the magic words.
One Simple Conversation To Have With Clients That Can Help Generate Referrals [13:44]
Carl: It's going to be anticlimactic. It sounds so simple. This is the other reason people don't do it, is it sounds so simple. But after teaching this for over a decade, and having hundreds if not thousands of conversations about why we don't do it, the main reason is fear. And we'll say that, right? It's just fear. If we can get to admitting it, we're scared. So here's the conversation, right? So first you find...it starts by making a list. Make a list of 10 clients that you'd like to replicate. This is place number one where people find all sorts of excuses and reasons to hide. They say, "I don't have 10." Fine, make a list of as many clients as you have that you'd like to replicate. If you don't have any clients that you'd like to replicate, fine, make a list of people who act like clients that you would want. Like, they might be your father-in-law, who would be a great client, if it weren't for the fact that he was your father-in-law. Or maybe your sister, or maybe a dentist who you know who's a good friend. So make a list of people who look like your ideal client. That's list number one. Then filter that list by people who like you. Only put people on the list that like you. I mean, we have had a couple of advisors do this conversation and come back and go, "It didn't go well." And I said, "Why didn't it go well?" "Because it turns out my service has been really bad." I'm like, "Don't put them on the list." So, put people on the list who like and value the work you're doing, and who you'd like to replicate. Okay?
This gets even more powerful with all the work you've done and the work we've done around... you say "nitch", I say "neesh". Now I've been trained. So around specialization, even more powerful if you could make it, they're also in your target niche, right? But not a requirement. Don't hide behind that one, it's not a requirement. So you have a list. Okay, let's say there are 10 people on the list. That's the goal. We want to have this conversation 10 times. The reason we don't want to have it once is because it's going to be a little bit scary and you're going to get better and better at it. But I promise even the scary ones, I've done so much work to make this easy. So we got a list, step one. Step number two, make an invitation. So, invite, here's what the invite looks like. Sally, Sally is on my list. I will email or call Sally. You may want to email just so you know the words can be typed out just the way you want. You can say this, specifically. "Sally, we're making some changes in the way we go about..." insert your word for marketing. I like just saying “marketing”. But you could say “business development”, or “new business development”, or “client acquisition”, whatever your word is. But, "We're considering some changes in how we go about business development at Prasada Capital," the name of the firm. "And I would love to get your advice. Could we meet for 15 minutes and I could just ask you some questions? So I could run some questions past you? So I could ask you some questions?" Sorry, "So I could ask some questions?"
Okay, this is place number two, where everybody hides, or number three or four, we're at now, where everybody hides. Like, we can't meet. Fine. Like, get on the phone. Like, have a phone call, have a Zoom chat.
Michael: Presumably, if this is a valued client, like, they're going to take the call. They like you. It's okay, they already like you. They're going to take the call.
Carl: Don't put anybody on this list... Here's the trick. This is a radical idea. This is the trick. Don't put anybody on the list who would say no to that invitation. And here's what you can do. We just had somebody... This was somebody else's idea, I can't remember who it was. They said they've been having a lot of success with Zoom coffee or Zoom tea, right? They have coffee delivered five minutes before, to the client's door, and it is coffee and a croissant or whatever. Right? So, look, the reason why – 15 minutes, or if you can do it in person, I don't even drink coffee – but the reason why coffee is the sort of ask I make, very specifically calculated. Here's why. It's to lower the pressure on you because you're scared to do this. I know you are because I am too. And coffee, how long is the right time for a coffee meeting?
Michael: If it's really going backwardly and awkwardly, just down the rest of the cup of coffee and get out of the meeting. You don't have to wait for the next course of the meal to arrive.
Carl: Exactly, exactly. That's the point. Is it okay if it goes for 12 minutes? Of course. Is it okay if coffee goes for an hour? Of course. That's the point. It's not that... Yeah, you don't have to wait for... If you've run out of something to say and the food hasn't even gotten there yet. So in our current environment, you can say, “Hey, could we just jump on Zoom together for 15 minutes? Could we have a quick phone call? Okay, I'd like to get your advice.” So let's go back through this. “Sally, we're considering some changes to how we go about business development here at Prasada Partners, Prasada Capital”, name of the firm, right? “And I would love to get your advice.” I did not say I'd love to pick your brain. Please, we're trying to outlaw that. Because every time I hear it... I don't have any cushion, so every time I hear it, it hurts. Like, I'm like don't say – that doesn't sound fun. So I'd like to get your advice. The other one you can use is, “I could use your help”.
Now, I should have told you, you've got to have a mindset shift here. Because every word I'm using could go really quickly down the slick, icky path. But you've got to have the mindset that you are... Here's the mindset, we're going from sales to research. This is not a tricky sales technique. You are trying to solve a problem. Remember, I ran into this problem, and I was like, how would you solve this problem? Well, if I was a researcher, I would go do research. Who would I do research with? The people who know the problem. My clients. Okay, what if I just go ask them. I'm just going to go ask them. So you're just asking. And then the other mindset shift we're making is from, we're shifting from outcome focus, to process focus. You win by simply having the conversation. You get to check a box. That's it. It doesn't matter what happens. And I promise you, the worst-case scenario, we'll be fine. Right? So we haven't set up a situation where it could be bad. Okay? So you've got to have that firmly. You've got to be thinking: academic, academic, academic, not sales. So that's when you say, "I could use your help." If you say, "I could use your help," as a salesperson, you're like, this is a little tricky ploy you're using. If you say this as a researcher, you mean it. And I hope I don't have to remind this group, like, we only say things we mean. So I meant it, I could use your help.
Okay, great. "We're considering some changes. I'd love to get your advice. Could we meet for 15 minutes so I could ask you some questions?" Great. So that's step number two, invitation. Step number three is the conversation. Do you see any places we need to talk about hiding at? Or we're saving that for the next...
Michael: No, we'll talk about hiding in the future. Like, let's just get through the actual conversation.
Carl: Cool. So now we're showing up, we have a conversation, we sit down with Sally, we say, "Sally, thanks so much for spending some time. As I mentioned, we're considering some changes to how we go about business development at Prasada Capital, and I could really use your help”, or “I'd really love to get your thoughts on something." And here's the question. This is going to be the scary part. Okay. Now, again, we're researchers, we only say things that are true. We're only focused on the process. So don't say it if it's not true. Don't put Sally on the list if this isn't true. “Sally, I've really enjoyed working with you.” Okay, now, insert niche if you can here. “I really enjoy working with dentists or entrepreneurs with a successful exit of over 10 million like you.” Right? But, “I've really enjoyed working with you.” Here's the question. “And I would love more clients just like you.” Here's the key. “If you were me, how would you go about that?” And then quiet.
Michael: "If you were me, how would you go about that?" Okay.
The Three Possible (Positive) Outcomes To Having The Conversation [22:04]
Carl: "If you were me, how would you go about that?" Now, please, those of you who are like, "Oh, I can see this." No, put your researcher hat back on. Like, if you're truly a researcher, actually, you don't even care about the outcome. You just are actually curious about what they're going to say. The goal is not to get a name. In fact, if we have time, I'll tell you, that's actually not the best outcome. I'll tell you what the best outcome is in a minute. So that's not our goal. So that's the question. So let's go through the client responses real quick. I want to take you through three fast. One is a blank stare. Okay? This is a good question. People probably aren't used to being asked this question. So, don't be surprised if they don't know the answer. That's by definition, probably, you know, one of the signs you're asking a good question is somebody will be like, "Wow, I've never been asked that before." Or, "That's a really good question." Or, "I haven't thought about that." So a blank stare is okay. I used to think the blank stare was bad. If you can, just lean into the blank stare a little bit. If you can't... Here's where you get permission because we can't have a bad outcome. So if you're starting to feel a little anxious, you've got ripcord permission right here. And here's the ripcord.
If Sally says, "You know, I hadn't really thought about it... I don't know." And for some reason, you're uncomfortable with the uncomfortableness, which I'm not anymore. I like the uncomfortableness because it's a sign it's a good question. But if you are at first, Sally goes, "I don't know." You can go, "Oh, you know, that's totally fine. I realize it's a question you weren't expecting. Hey, if anything comes to mind, just let me know. How are the kids?" That's the ripcord. What happens at the end of a ripcord discussion? Three things. Number one, I'm telling you, if you do this right, and you're nice, and you're honest, people feel honored that they were asked. Like, think about when you get asked for advice or help from someone you like, who's coming in as an academic, not as a salesperson, you feel honored you were asked. That's number one. Number two, shocking. If you do this 10 times, at least one person will say to you, "I didn't know you were accepting new clients." Every time, one out of every 10. So number two, the person knows you're accepting new clients. Number three, they might think about it. I promise you, they wouldn't think about it if…
Michael: It's still going to be noodling in their brain, right? Just take any time someone asked you for advice and you didn't know the answer. Like, you're probably still going to be thinking about it after the meeting. You're going to be running the script in your head of what else you could have answered and said. So, that means that, every now and then when you do this, you get an email from Sally three days later, like, “I thought of something!”
Carl: Some of the best, months later. “Hey, I was thinking about that conversation we had a couple months ago.” So, especially if you're in the mindset that I think most of the listeners here will be in because you're good...like, we're not icky salespeople. So yeah, they feel honored, they know you're accepting new clients, and they'll think about it. And I promise you, none of those three things will happen if you don't have this conversation. So we're just trying to increase the odds. So yeah, be remarkable. Do that. Show up on time, do what you say you're going to do, say please and thank you. Do all those things, Dan Sullivan's laws of referability. Right? Do all those things. But then now let's increase the odds by having this conversation. Pull the ripcord if you need to.
Here's the second way to handle blank stares. Treat a blank stare as research, an opportunity for research. What I mean by that is, run an idea past them. So they have a blank stare, they go, "I don't know." Grab one of the ideas that you've...either from other conversations or that I... I'll give you one right now. Well, actually, I'll give you one in a minute that you could use. Like, you could say, “Hey, someone else suggested this. What do you think of that idea? Is this a good idea?” And again, don't slip into, “If I did this, would you bring people?” But you can say, “If I had done that, would that have been something that you would have attended?” You know, if it was an event or something. So, a blank stare equals ripcord or research. Okay. Number two is an idea. And this is, I think, the best outcome. Number three is they give you a name. But I actually like ideas better.
So let me just give you an idea. Like, here's Christine. I was having this conversation with Christine. She was a technology salesperson. She was an amazing client. This was back in late 1999. She was an amazing client. It was about to get a little trickier for her in 2001. She was at EMC. Right? So she's like, "Oh, that's an interesting question." And I had gotten to this point where I could not pull the ripcord. So I was just listening. And then she said, "You know what, actually, I got into technology sales because I wanted to control my own schedule. And the main reason I wanted to control my own schedule was so I could golf. But I never do it because I'm just so driven, right? Like, I don't take the time. So, you know, this would be crazy. But if you set up a tee time on Friday afternoon at 1:30 or 2:00 for a foursome, each week during the summer, I'll bring the two other people you should meet." I mean, come on.
Now, I don't golf, so I told her. But I knew Christine skied. I was about to learn to golf because of this, but I knew Christine skied. I said, "Christine, that's amazing. That would be really great." I said, "Do you think it would work just as well with skiing, like a half day up at Snowbird or Alta, which is 20 minutes from our office?" And she was like, "Yeah, totally." Christine brought...the first day she brought Scotty and Steve skiing. I still remember the day, beautiful Utah... Like, anyway, won't go into detail. But Scotty and Steve were like, "Thanks. This was so amazing." Scotty and Steve both became clients. I have this diagram in my office: Christine, Scotty, and Steve. And then I have the genealogy chart for my business that came from Scotty and Steve referring people. Because Scotty and Steve met me how? We went skiing. They were like, "Hey, Carl, you want to do that again next Friday? I'll bring two people."
Michael: Yeah, they've gone like, get awesome skiing, price of admission, bring two people you know who Carl might like. You don't even have to say anything. It's accepted culture. You don't have to ask. It’s just kind of out there now. You know how you got in the club, so you know how you bring other people in the club. We don't talk about the club. The club just happens.
Carl: That's exactly what I said to Scotty. I'm like, "Yeah, if you want to go skiing, you just have to bring two people." I didn't say that.
Michael: All right, first rule of Carl’s ski club. Got it.
Carl: I did not say that. That's another idea. Jerry. Jerry, I asked Jerry the same thing, a little uncomfortable because it's a good question. He's like, "You know what, my dad used to attend these business breakfast meetings. It was like six to eight people. And the person who organized it would always present something. And the goal was just to help understand a current issue. If you did one of those meetings, like a breakfast meeting, like, we met at like a breakfast place with a private room. I'm pretty sure I could bring six people." And that started. We did that for like 18 months in a row. We did a monthly breakfast meeting based on Jerry's idea. A monthly breakfast meeting and Christine helped build my business. It was amazing. So those ideas are amazing. Like, another one was a client appreciation event. And somebody's like, "But could you do something for families?" So we had a concert pianist come and all the families brought their kids that they wanted them to learn how to play the piano. And the concert pianist would play. This is Jon Schmidt of The Piano Guys. People now may even know The Piano Guys. Jon would play and then in between songs, he would talk about his creative process. And so the moms and dads were all just like seeing their kids listen to this. It was amazing. We got comments. So that was an idea from, if you were me, how would you go about this?
Michael: So the essence of this is, you know, when you ask someone, "If you were me, how would you try to grow the business and meet more people like you?" People don't actually answer what they think you, Carl, should do. They literally answer what they would like to do personally. Which means when you then say, "Well, what if I did that?" They're like, "Well, I guess I would be a part of it since I just said, that's what I would like to do." Where, like, Christine wasn't suggesting it because she thinks you like to golf. Christine suggested it because Christine likes to golf. So if you organize a golf outing, guess who's going to show up with some friends? Christine, who just said, "I would do golf outings where I can bring my friends."
Carl: They are invested in the success of that idea. And you don't have to put any pressure on them. In fact, I would avoid pressure as much as possible. Just be like... Like, just avoid pressure. So, ideas, now, realize, we didn't ask them, "How would you grow the business?" Right? We just said, "I'd love to have more clients like you. If you were me, how would you go about that?" Different words, different pressure, different feeling, different sense, no obligation. Just, "How would you go about that?" I'm just trying to solve this problem.
Michael: And so then the third option is, or they just say like, "Oh, well, you should talk to my friend, Jim."
Carl: Yeah. One quick thing, sometimes in number two, they give you bad ideas. Like, "Hey, have you ever taken out a billboard?" I had somebody say that. "What about an ad in the yellow pages or the newspaper?" And I always use those... Again, research. Like, what would a researcher ask? "Oh, hey, thank you." They'd write that down and then they'd probably say something like, "Hey, would you have responded to that? Like, if you saw it on a billboard?"
Michael: "I'm just curious, like, what would a billboard have to say that would make you want to work with someone?"
Carl: Yeah. So you can ask in a very nice way. Like, I love that idea. Like, “Hey, let's just brainstorm real quickly. Like, if I did that would you…?” “Yeah, you're probably right. You know, I'll think about it.” “Cool. How are the kids?” So then number three is a name. “Gosh, funny, you should ask…” And I'm telling you, we just did this with 2,000 advisors in the UK. I'm in London right now and we just did this with 2,000 advisors in the UK. And I've got stories coming out of like, I mean, there's massive amounts of stories. And like, one was this great one, just like this, where somebody was literally like, "Crazy, you should ask, I just left a meeting with my..." I can't remember who it was, it was a relative of some sort. My sister, my brother, somebody. "And, you know, the in-laws just inherited a whole bunch of money. And they were literally just asking me, and I just didn't think about it." And so, again, is that going to happen every time? No, of course not. I guarantee you, it won't happen if you don't have the conversation. We're just putting ourselves at risk.
Michael: And if you have the conversation enough times, I can pretty much guarantee that something, some version of that's going to happen with someone just because if you have the conversation enough times, someone has something going on in their life, who recently talked to someone in a recent moment that actually lines up with what you do.
Carl: Exactly. Just complaining about their person, selling a business, like, knowing somebody... We haven't kept specific stats on this. But we think like, I've always said like, five of them are just like, “Oh, it was a fun meeting. I had a good chat with a client.” They know those three things. They're like option number one, like... And then there's always one that's like, “I can't believe I didn't even know you were accepting new clients.” There's always that. And then it seems like 1 or 2 out of 10, you get a good idea. And 1 or 2 out of 10, you get an actual referral. Now, the actual referral, "Hey, you should contact them". Remember, that's not what we want. We don't want a name to contact. We all know how that goes. So the easy answer to that is, “John or Sally, thanks so much for referring Dave to me. That is...I mean, honestly, it's not really what I was even expecting because I realized how hard that is. But, you know, if I call Dave, I don't know that that'll be the most comfortable thing for me just to email or call Dave. Hey, I have an idea.” That's almost exactly how I'd do it. I'd wait. “Hey, I have an idea. What if the three of us get together for coffee sometime? What if the three of us went on a hike? What if the three of us went on a walk? What if the three of us went skiing? What if the three of us jumped on Zoom?” You know, like so you're always... And again, that's research.
You can say, "Sally, if Dave had given me your number, and I just emailed you out of the blue, do you think that'd be the most... What would be the most comfortable way for me to talk to Dave?" Right? So that's the referral conversation. I can guarantee – because I can use that kind of language – I can guarantee if you do this 10 times, and you do it exactly the way I taught you, you will have no bad outcome. Remember, I told you to only ask people that would say yes, and only ask people that are happy with your service. That's the one caveat, right? You have no bad outcome. And I can guarantee you, you'll have a good outcome. You will be happy you did it. I can't think of a better business-building strategy. If I was building a business again, I would focus on doing 10 of these a month, right? Like, I would just do this over and over and over and over and over, until you find the Christine idea, right, the monthly breakfast that you love, and then you implement that stuff.
Michael: And then you do it. But the essence of it is just, if you want clients to be more engaged with growing your business, we'll go one step up from getting referrals from them. Just if you want clients to be engaged with helping you grow your business, try just asking them.
Carl: Yeah, it's a crazy idea. Just ask.
Michael: A crazy idea.
Carl: We used to have people say, "How did you know this?" And I would say, "Crazy, we asked you."
Michael: I love it. I love it. Thank you, Carl. Thank you…
Carl: My pleasure. Thanks, Michael.
Michael: …for the conversation on driving more referrals beyond just being remarkable and hoping they arrive.